Fact Sheets | September 8, 2009

Factory Farms

What are factory farms?

Factory farms, also called industrial livestock operations or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are large agricultural enterprises where animals are raised in confined settings. The Environmental Protection Agency explains that these facilities congregate animals on small tracts of land, sustaining them on purchased or grown feed rather than through grazing or pasture.[1]

Why are factory farms a problem?

U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicates a clear trajectory toward fewer and bigger farms that control a larger share of production across all livestock sectors in the United States. This trend has pushed tens of thousands of independent family farms off the land. For example, between 1987 and 2007 the median hog farm size increased by 2,000 percent, while the number of farmers raising hogs fell by 69 percent.[2]

This loss of family farms hurts local economies. Because factory farms are often part of a vertically integrated supply chain in which a company controls numerous stages of production from seed to table, transactions typically flow within a corporation and profits are siphoned off to its investors, rather than reinvested in the farm economy. By contrast, independent farmers invest in their local communities to purchase inputs and services needed on their farms, keeping these dollars circulating close to home.

Factory farms also compromise health. The emissions, waste and infectious agents produced when thousands of animals are confined with little sunlight, mobility or ventilation have devastating impacts on human, animal and environmental well-being. Air and water contamination, soil degradation, nutrient runoff, elevated hormone and antibiotic levels in the environment and illnesses in surrounding communities are all documented impacts of factory farms.

What has caused the growth of factory farms in America?

The increasing corporate concentration and industrialization of agriculture continues to replace family farms with factory farms that are controlled by large agribusinesses. Federal policies such as government subsidies, along with unfair business practices, particularly through contract arrangements, have largely contributed to this trend. And the growing distance between producer and consumer that results enables the industrialization and corporate concentration of our meat supply to proceed without much notice or protest from the general public.

What is Farm Aid doing about factory farms?

Fighting the growth of factory farms is central to Farm Aid’s mission of building a vibrant family farm-centered system of agriculture. Since the 1990s, when farmers and farm groups first spoke up about the damage to rural areas caused by “factory farms,” Farm Aid has supported a national effort to stop factory farms through the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE), a dynamic collaboration of regional farm groups.

Farm Aid is currently working with CFFE and other partner organizations to urge USDA to halt government-backed loans to new and expanding hog and poultry factory farm operations. This destructive lending is leading to the gross overproduction of hogs and poultry and the long-term depression of producer prices, forcing family farmers out of business and giving consumers fewer options at the grocery store.

In addition, Farm Aid continues to grow the Good Food Movement, which encourages consumers to choose local, sustainable and humanely raised foods, deepens relationships between producers and consumers, and promotes policies that keep family farmers on the land and thriving.

  1. EPA 2007. “NPDES FAQs.” Accessed 9.26.09 http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/faqs.cfm?program_id=7
  2. Lawrence, J. D., Grimes, Glenn 2007. Production and Marketing Characteristics of U.S. Pork Producers, 2006. Department of Economics Working Paper Series. Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University.

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